The Political Catwalk
By Sharon Bair and David Beck-Brown
October 20, 2011
Leadership starts at the top. The collective body one leads will behave at the same level of integrity shown by the leader, be it a stellar example or less than par. One can speculate as to which model exists in an agency based on the proverbial clothing it displays on the public catwalk. Proving quality of leadership is the challenge. Based on evidence accumulated through experience, however, proving it is possible. The following examples describe various government agencies involved in all tiers of the criminal justice system, and how leadership fashions a department. You be the judge of what works.
At the State level, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) exemplifies the model of professionalism that could and should exist in every law enforcement agency. When the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights (POBR) was enacted in 1977, CHP Commissioner Glendon B. Craig extended the controversial State law to every CHP employee including non-uniformed personnel. Craig was criticized for his decision by other top cops, who had granted the POBR only to their uniformed personnel. Craig, who later became Sheriff of Sacramento County, had the foresight to predict the divisionary potential of the POBR, had he favored one category of his subordinates over another. The result of his decision is evident today. Walk into a local CHP office and ask to see department policy. The receptionist will not only provide you with a copy of CHP Pride, she will tell you every employee must memorize it, internalize it and exhibit behavior matching it on a daily basis. She will also give you a receipt for the 90 cent copying fee. As you walk out in a fog because you’re not used to efficient customer service these days, especially from a law enforcement agency, notice the framed commendation plaque on the wall. The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. routinely recognizes the CHP for outstanding leadership. All CHP employees, from Sacramento to the municipal desk, have earned the right to wear tan. There is only one exception. When it rains uniformed personnel wear blue.
In 1996, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) had the opportunity to follow the CHP example of non-exclusionary leadership during union negotiations. However, Sacramento listened only to the demands of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the only prison union protected by the POBR. Had State leaders known the CCPOA was failing to honor their agreement with free-staff members’ unions, the very co-workers who had fueled the CCPOA’s power one year prior, they might not have overlooked the ramifications of denying parity through an equal benefits package. It should have been a no-brainer. Like the CCPOA, non-uniformed employees at the time were bound by the Departmental Operations Manual (DOM) and therefore had equivocal custodial duties of inmates. To gain power under the ruse of representing labor is an unforgivable act through the eyes of an honest union. Ask the Teamsters or the California Teacher’s Association (CTA) what it means to be allegiant. The same year the CCPOA failed as a union, teachers went on strike in San Diego. The Teamsters held the line with them. Aside from shattering the spirit of solidarity, the divide and conquer tactic of empowering one union at the expense of another has obliterated the rehabilitation component of the CDCR. Sadly, it is too late for amends. The decision has resulted in a bloated CDCR budget, unilateral lay-offs of professional staff and mass incarceration now spilling into County jurisdictions, ill-prepared for the influx. Few people outside have seen the catwalk inside. Like Dior, the CDCR is high-end exclusive. Imagine the Bastille with five large dirt yards. Then glance at the pseudo-military CCPOA in green. Don’t expect them to remove their mirrored shades. It’s part of their costume of veiled power.
San Diego County leadership is defined jointly by the District Attorney (DA), the County Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff’s Department. The DA’s mission statement contains the phrase, “We will be open and forthright in our communications with each other and all those with whom we come in contact.” On October 1, 2011 Assembly Bill (AB) 109 went into effect. At 445 pages in length, the federally mandated law amends 21 State Codes, from the Business Code to the Welfare and Institutions Code. For example, employees who routinely access The Health and Safety Code, such as the Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU), must now analyze new language within 67 sections of the law to which they are bound. Officials held accountable by the Penal Code (PC) have a more difficult and time-consuming obligation. AB-109amends a staggering 299 sections of the PC. The Bill also adds six sections, adds one Title commencing with one section to one Part, and repeals two sections of the current PC. No wonder the facilitator of the DA’s round table responded with a blank stare after participants requested a hard copy of the Bill. The copying fee alone would have been over $1,250.00, a steep price for the group to be informed. Although the California Public Records Act (CPRA) gives citizens the right to request records, a stipulation in the Administrative Code trumps the cost of duplication. In other words, government agencies have the right to make you pay for a copy of the document you request. Don’t give in. Anyone can bypass the Administrative Code with a good search engine and a reliable printer. On the topic of budget, forget volunteers. Has the County allotted funds to distribute the revised PC text to employees who should be in the know? The prosecutor who dismissed jurors last month had a 2009 PC edition displayed prominently on her courtroom desk. If you were facing trial, wouldn’t you want your jury to digest the current law upon which both sides are basing their decisions to please the court?
As thousands of State prisoners are released into the hands of County officials, the responsibility of realignment is understandably daunting. The community group leaders who participate in the DA’s round table sincerely want to support the County with the burden of providing housing and services. Therefore, clear cross-communication between County higher-ups and the community is crucial at this time. Although the DA’s trophy for best website, displayed in a curio cabinet in the Hall of Justice is admirable, a statue is not sufficient evidence to confirm strong leadership. The qualifying factor will not be determined by fear-mongering. Nor will it be determined by deflecting responsibility for transitioning parolees into our neighborhoods. The litmus test for a good leader in this case will be measured by adherence to the law. Since AB-109 requires shifting Parole duties to the Probation Department, the Sheriff is now part of the equation. He might want to reconsider his budgetary allowance for new SUVs and bullet-proof vests. Hiring a team of paralegals to help deputies interpret the law might be a wiser option. Besides, business casual is more comfy than Kevlar.
Finally, before the law can knock on your front door, it must first pass through the sieve known as Municipal Code. Depending on the city, Municipal Code can be the most difficult to navigate. Therefore, determining quality of leadership at the local level requires a sincere commitment. Visualize Jennifer Connelly’s search for David Bowie in The Labyrinth. The double negative test at the window is particularly frustrating.
In the City of San Diego, decision-making powers ricochet between the City Council, the Mayor’s Office, the Chief of Police and the City Attorney. Add to the mix several volunteer Boards created by the City Charter, including The Citizen’s Review Board on Police Practices (CRB) codified in 1988, and you’re ready to enter the municipal maze. If you have an issue with the City of San Diego, don’t bother asking staff for written policy. Be prepared to search for documents on your own. Then expect resistance from certain personnel when they find out you’ve educated yourself with the knowledge they don’t know, or don’t want you to know they don’t know. As your quest for accountability continues, don’t be surprised if you witness behavior equivalent to obstruction of justice. For example, when the president of the cops union feigns knowledge of a policy, tell him cheerfully you’ll find it elsewhere. When he tells you, “Good Luck,” don’t respond. His snarkiness will motivate you to successfully locate the mysterious policy through an alternative source.
On that note, the Chief of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) spoke recently at The San Diego Police Foundation’s annual fundraising luncheon. He shared a personal story in the public forum that may not have registered with the majority of attendees, including some high profile City officials, as a connection to publicized misconduct within his department. The chief confessed he cheated on his entrance exam to become a cop. At 5’7” tall, he didn’t meet the height requirement of 5’9” to join the San Jose Police Department (SJPD). Possessing the sincere desire to become a member of the force, he made two pivotal decisions. First he tried to pass the required physical by wearing lifts in his shoes, but was declined by a nurse following procedure. Steadfast in his desire to join the SJPD, he eventually accepted a favor from an Admissions Officer who allowed him to bypass the height requirement.
The chief was communicating at the luncheon his honest passion and drive to become a police officer, commendable traits in a leader. Achieving a goal through deceit, however, creates a dichotomy in the leadership model. The chief had an alternative option. Rather than circumventing protocol, he could have brought attention to the discriminatory factor of the height requirement and advocated for a change in policy before going through the admissions process. He could have also reported the Admissions Officer to Internal Affairs (IA) for violating department protocol instead of adhering to the Code of Silence. Officer discipline would have been determined by the SJPD’s IA procedure, which at the time may not have been redacted from public review. Regardless, had the Chief made the latter decision, he could have worn his blues with pride.
Whoever is at the helm of the SDPD now is ultimately responsible for what leaks from the ship. Misconduct leads to corruption, which spirals into conspiracy and the truth is no longer covert. How many more of the crew in blue will perish before one declares mutiny? If no brave soul can display courage under fire, then how long will it take the Ethics Committee to grasp the solution? Teachers must answer to the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP) and district policy must coincide with Board standards. School policies are not only required to align with the CSTP, their policies must be accessible to the public. Why is it so difficult for people to comprehend there should be a similar State standard of professionalism in place for the precinct? The CSTP equivalent for policing the police appears to be The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), since their mission statement is “to continually enhance the professionalism of California law enforcement in serving its communities.” The conflict of interest, however, lies in who compiles POST, including The Training Delivery and Compliance Bureau (TDB) within the agency. POST members consist exclusively of law enforcement unions. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes, the TDB’s role in officer accountability, and whoever polices the police should be transparent.
The attire displayed on a fashion show catwalk is usually intended for the consumer with means. It’s fun to watch, but when the pageantry is over, the average onlooker returns home to shop at Walmart. Leaders in our criminal justice system need to be aware of the clothing they showcase in public, including the garb worn by their subordinates. Are they consistently appealing to the common good of all? Or are they excluding the majority and catering only to those who can afford a lavish façade? A quality leader exudes personal power through all levels of management. Pay attention to the wardrobes on the agencies you encounter. Commend the leadership models that work. Help mend the ones that are frayed. You have the power to effect change.
Sharon Bair is a writer who resides in San Diego County, a Licensed Studio Teacher, a credentialed Teacher of the Deaf and enrolled in USDís Paralegal Studies Program.
David Beck-Brown is prison-reform chair with the San Diego-based A New PATH (Parents For Addiction Treatment & Healing). PATH is a member organization of the Sacramento-based Coalition for Effective Public Safety.